The Boundary Purge: Corbyn's Gentle Revolution

25 Jul 2016


If Corbyn remains Labour Leader then the Party will experience a thorough purge in the guise of the seemingly benign democratising force: the 2018 Boundary Commission Review. The Boundary Commission is one of those mysterious Westminster beasts that claims impartiality but is more often than not a ruse for the governing party to gerrymander the electoral system. It is comprised of four non-governmental commissioners and chaired by the Commons’ Speaker. The Commissioners are required to do reviews of parliamentary seats every five years and are tasked with ensuring that each constituency has a roughly equal voter population.


The current review has been meandering along for years now. It first appeared in the heady days of the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition. Both Parties committed in their 2010 manifestos to reduce the number of parliamentary seats from the current 650 to the 500s. Although peddled under the guise of equalising seats, there was an ulterior partisan motive. Both parties had much to gain from breaking up Labour constituencies that tend to be smaller, being predominantly urban seats. To ensure that the Coalition got their way they changed the method of voter registration from household registration to individual registration, which disproportionally disadvantaged Labour voters, who were statistically less likely to register individually.


Although the Lib Dems kyboshed the proposals, following a failed Lords Reform, the 2015 General Election saw a majority Conservative Government with a clear run to press on with the Review.

Under the new proposals, the number of parliamentary seats will be reduced from 650 to 600, with Labour seats being hit the hardest. In London, a Labour stronghold, the seats would be reduced from 73 to 68 and in the North West, from 75 to 68. It seems likely that the next election will be after the 2018 deadline, meaning that the Boundary Commission’s recommendations will be published and possibly implemented, meaning Labour’s electoral prospects in the next General Election will be far from rosy.


Rather than deflating Corbyn the recommendations of the Boundary Commission have come at the perfect time for him, as the perfect means to suppress his rebellious MP’s, in a “kinder, gentler” manner. In Corbyn’s recent leadership launch, we saw his first moves towards the purge when he mentioned the Boundary Commission and that its recommendations might mean that MPs will face reselection but that sitting MP’s will be able to put their name forward. This confirms that the new battleground of the Labour party will not be the marginal seats they need to win, but in Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) where local members decide on parliamentary business. Corbyn and Momentum most probably already have a list of candidates that they are going to parachute into these desired constituencies.


In his leadership launch Corbyn cited problems with the Boundary Review such as the possible unequal representation for ethnic minorities, so how can he claim this is unfair but at the same time use it to his own advantage? Possibly the seats where the Corbynites think they can win the nomination will be the ones they push for the boundaries to stay the same, in other less secure seats Corbyn’s worries will probably be omitted.


Corbyn will find it difficult to remove MPs who have solid electoral support base, such as Ben Bradshaw, Exeter MP and vocal Corbyn critic of Corbyn, meaning the anticipated purge may not be as thorough as he would hope for. All this ultimately depends on Labour’s governing body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), who determine which MPs are automatically on the ballot for reselection.


Corbyn hopes that the last vestiges of New Labour will be extirpated under the banner of “kinder politics”. The Boundary Review will inevitably cause a fundamental change in the make-up of the Labour Party, with a few guaranteed bloody noses, but as Robespierre said to his compatriots “Citizens, do you want a revolution without a revolution?”

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